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November 11, 2008 | 7 Comments

Veteran’s Day

My Grandpa—my mom’s dad—Owen Johnston, enlisted in the army during World War II. He already had kids at the time, but joined anyway.

He served in Patton’s Third Army and made it to France in December of 1944 where he was shot. When he would talk about it, which was almost never, he said he could see the tracer bullets coming at him and that they moved so slowly. He lay in a trench for a long time and lost a lot of blood.

Eventually, he was evacuated, but he was in pretty bad shape. Several slugs had passed through and one stayed in. The doctors never thought he would live. We know this because The Stars and Stripes, looking for happy news that Christmas, wrote a short piece about him as “The soldier the Germans couldn’t kill.”

Only once did he ever show me his scar, and that only through his shirt, which he never took off in view of anybody. I was pretty young, but I recall seeing the depression, a kind of hole in his gut, through his t-shirt. I saw his Purple Heart, and he let me hold it. The slug they took out of him was supposed to be in a box in a trunk, but I was never allowed to see it. He also had his rifle, which he smuggled back as a souvenir. I was only allowed to hold it when my mom and grandma weren’t around, and I was forsworn to keep my mouth shut about it.

Years later, in the early 1970s, he and grandma took a trip to France to see the battle site. But the closer he got to the town, the harder it was, and he never made it. He turned around and came home.

Grandpa worked and retired from Fords in Dearborn, a regular union guy. We had an enormous family—a ton of uncles and aunts—and everybody stuck together. I used to go to the Eagles or the VFW with the gang and I would fetch drinks from the bar or sit and talk with my Aunt Katherine. I don’t think that a kid can do that nowadays.

Everybody would talk and drink and smoke for hours. Then the next day it would be the same. In the mornings, grandpa would tend to his yard—which was immaculate, like a golf course green; nobody was allowed on it—or go fishing. But in the evenings, flexibly defined to start anytime after noon, it was back with the gang or in front of the TV with the game and a glass of Kesslers and water.

All this eventually caught up with him and by the time the ’90s started, he had a stroke. He never really came back from it. My uncle Don, his oldest boy, would still sneak grandpa cigarettes, which irritated the hell out of my mother and her sister.

He was far from being any kind of saint and didn’t always make the right choices, but I always figured he earned it, so what the hell. He eventually died peacefully in his sleep at home.

Just one story with thousands more like it.

It’s Veteran’s Day. Try to remember or thank somebody who served and who helped make this country such a great place.

November 10, 2008 | 6 Comments

Poll: Who’s more ardent? An Obama supporter or a Mac fanboy?

That question popped into my mind as I watched this video, sent in by loyal reader Jade.

Or is there a third option?

Unbuntu? i’m going to learn, Unbuntu?

Addendum Just to show how fair & balanced I am: in this house I have one dedicated Linux box, one Linux laptop, one duel-boot Linux/Vista, one dedicated Vista box, two Mac book pros. No Obama buttons.


Schumer’s Fairness Doctrine fatuity

First listen to the appalling Chuck Schumer responding to a question about the proposed Fairness Doctrine (link from Unfair Doctrine):

Let’s summarize. He said:

  • I think we should all try to be fair and balanced, don’t you?
  • [Radio broadcasts]: It’s not like printing a broadside…Do you think we should allow people to put pornography on the air? Absolutely not.
  • The very same people who don’t want the Fairness Doctrine, want the FCC to limit pornography on the air.
  • But you can’t say “Government, Hands off” in one area to a commercial enterprise, “But you’re allowed to intervene in another.” That’s not consistent.

Schumer is treasure trove to people like me who are always on the lookout for examples of appallingly bad reasoning to use for teaching students logic. Almost any Schumer speech can be milked for at least one lesson—you could probably get half a semester from this bare minute.

Now, nobody knows what any new Fairness Doctrine might be since it is now in its “trial balloon” phase. But we can look to an earlier, abandoned incarnation of it for some clues. We can also glean hints from Schumer’s words.

Schumer thinks we should try to be “Fair & Balanced.” A fine thing, but not something that can be mandated. This is not a question of opinion or morality. For example, supposed on some matter the truth is A (where this is some argument or proposition about a decision we have to make). I set up a newspaper to tout A. Another group, unhappy with the reality of A, says “B is better because it shows we care.” But since A is true, it is absurd for me to publish anything else. It is even more absurd for the government to threaten me with criminal liability for my refusal to explain the merits of B.

Of course, we don’t often know the truth of some thing, but we can make a rational guess. It might be, conditional on some evidence, that A is nearly true, or more than likely true, and that every other alternative to A is less likely to be true. Again, it is absurd for me to publish anything else, and equally or more absurd for the government to intervene.

Can the government ban certain opinions from being published? The answer is yes. In certain circumstances, it is rational to proscribe behavior. Some examples: calls for armed insurrection, pleas for murder or other crimes, for sedition and so on. It is not only right the government should ban these, but it is its duty to do so. The exact limits of opinion that can and should be banned are, of course, unknown, and will be, in some cases, flexibly defined. But in no case does it make sense for the government to say, “Ok, make your plea for murdering the president, but you also have to allow Mr X 5 minutes to offer his counter opinion.” The ludicrousness of any such an argument is apparent. In short, either an idea is banned or it is allowable (a trivial tautology, but one that bears mentioning).

It does not follow that because the vast majority of Americans want to ban or limit pornography from being broadcast, that the government can ban, limit, or regulate any other opinion. Whether or not it is right to ban or limit certain opinions, or what constitutes the definition of those opinions, it does not follow—it is idiotic to propose—that the government should allow airing of the controversial opinion but then require the broadcaster provide time for counter opinions. If that were the case, then we could have a station air Deep Throat followed by a plea for proper dental hygiene.

Proper dental hygiene? Why not “The evils of pornography”? Why not, indeed. Now comes the easiest refutation of any implementation of a Fairness Doctrine. Suppose I say “A is true!” The government wants to say, “You may say A is true, but I mandate that you allow fair time for opponents of A. You shall also bear the expense of this.” Who are the legitimate opponents of A? Those that say B? C?, D, E, F…?

This is the meat of it, friends. Pay attention. In order to enforce any “Fairness” Doctrine, the government will be forced to define the opposite of A. Because, for any matter that is uncertain, there are an infinite or certainly an enormously huge number of alternatives to A. You cannot, in finite time, broadcast every alternative to A even if you wanted to. The only way to mandate broadcasting alternatives to A is by the government dictating—and dictating requires a dictator—what those alternatives are.

For example, in the earlier incarnation of this naked power grab, a prominent person who was “attacked” on the air was to be allowed time to offer his defense. What defines an “attack”? Does any negative opinion about the Great Leader in power constitute an “attack”? The Great Leader proposes a tax increase, and a broadcaster says, “This will negatively effect credit and so make it more difficult to get home loans.” Is this an “attack”? Who can say? The government wants to say. In fact, it must say.

There is no way around this fact: the government must get into the business of defining what an “attack” is, what are its limits, and so on. There is no alternative if you require a Fairness Doctrine. There must come into an existence an office to administer Fairness (I propose “Ministry of Truth”).

Of course, many, like Schumer, would like nothing better than to be in the business of defining what are the limits of opinion on political matters. The reason for this is obvious as it is odious.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is impossible for any Fairness Doctrine to be consonant with those words. It is not a debatable point: it is logically impossible. Unless, as Schumer and other advocates of the “living constitution” want to do, you change the meaning of the plain-English words “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of the press.” They must interpret this to mean “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of the press unless that law allows us to respond to people who hurt our feelings or otherwise pick on us, or that the speech printed or broadcast is hateful.” This is so absurd that I am shocked that anybody but an academic could ever think it.

Well, that’s enough. I’m already sick of this. There are no subtleties involved in this argument, not anywhere. To see these power-hungry politicians licking their chops over the possibilities due to them because of their recent electoral victory is truly frightening.

Sigh. I didn’t even get to the obvious logical absurdity in Schumer’s phrase “But you can’t say…” I’ll leave that for homework.


I have always liked P.J. O’Rourke

Be sure to read through page 2, where you will read:

Conservatives should never say to voters, “We can lower your taxes.” Conservatives should say to voters, “You can raise spending. You, the electorate, can, if you choose, have an infinite number of elaborate and expensive government programs. But we, the government, will have to pay for those programs. We have three ways to pay.

“We can inflate the currency, destroying your ability to plan for the future, wrecking the nation’s culture of thrift and common sense, and giving free rein to scallywags to borrow money for worthless scams and pay it back 10 cents on the dollar.

“We can raise taxes. If the taxes are levied across the board, money will be taken from everyone’s pocket, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and least advantaged will be harmed the most. If the taxes are levied only on the wealthy, money will be taken from wealthy people’s pockets, hampering their capacity to make loans and investments, the economy will stagnate, and the poorest and the least advantaged will be harmed the most.

“And we can borrow, building up a massive national debt. This will cause all of the above things to happen plus it will fund Red Chinese nuclear submarines that will be popping up in San Francisco Bay to get some decent Szechwan take-out.”

Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily once more.